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This review is taken from PN Review 33, Volume 10 Number 1, September - October 1983.

IN IMMEMORIAL ELMS Norman Page (ed.), Tennyson-Interviews and Recollections (Macmillan) £17.50

One of the oddest things about the Victorians, about going round Osborne House for example, and about memoirs and conversations and portraits and poems, and about those essentially Victorian buildings and institutions which anyone over fifty now will remember in working order, is their combination of grandeur and intimacy. This is specially true of Tennyson. The failure of Burne-Jones is an aesthetic line, a weakness in the pure blue eyes of saints in stained glass: intimacy has invaded and colonised grandeur. The strength of William Morris textiles is that grandeur has overwhelmed and yet not annihilated intimacy. Tennyson's poems are more intensely moving, his grief is more intensely grievous, because of the interweaving which we cannot choose but know with his character and his life. The life could be presented without the real poems that he wrote; it would still be as we know it, both intimate and grand, but the poetry would have to be imagined offstage as a divine rumble, like the Iliad in Victorian understanding.

We are not for the moment concerned with his poetry, but let us take it for common ground that Tennyson now and then was a great poet: not great like Homer or Dante or Shakespeare, but great from our point of view, like Hopkins but not quite like Milton or perhaps even Wordsworth. Such an opinion takes a long and a constant teasing out, and it is vulnerable to revaluations, but take it at present for common ground. In ...


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